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Interesting Locks

Updated: May 4, 2023

chest lock with bell and combination

Excerpted from The Chronicle Vol. XXI “Supplement,” March 1968

by Ivan H. Crowell

Chest Lock with a Bell and Combination This chest lock was hand made largely of sheet iron parts riveted together, and measures 7 by 6 by 1 inch. The key was not necessarily in the locking operation, the lid catch forced the bolt back when the lid was closed, and a spring forced the bolt forward so that the chest was lock­ed. To unlock the chest could be quite a noisy project.

The key, rather than fitting over a metal peg, fitted into a cruciform hollow barrel. A cross section of the key and barrel are shown. The innermost end of the barrel has a 5-lobed rosette riveted to it. The rosette was of sheet iron, and 2 inches in diameter. As the key turned the rosette, each lobe raised a bell spring, which snapped closed and rang the bell sharply, as the rosette lobe passed. Thus, for each turn of the key, there were 5 loud warning rings, doubtless intended to inform the proprietor.

The lock had a combination! The key could be turned round and round, either backward or forward, thus repeatedly ringing the noisy bell loudly, but without releas­ing the catch. It was only when the right position was reached properly, that the tumblers would be set, then a slight reverse turn of the key would slide the bolt and release the catch. The lock could be repeatedly opened so long as the key remained within the slight-turn ·area, but once this was passed, the tumbler would fall and the com­bination had to be repeated before the lock could be activat­ed again.

The lock is Account number I 965, in the York-Sun­bury Historical Society in Fredericton, New Brunswick, but no significant data accompanies the recording. Infor­mation on this type of lock, its dates, inventor, maker, etc., would be deeply appreciated.

Rim lock with four talons

A Rim Lock with Four Talons The bolt of most locks has one talon or notch into which the key blade fits and moves the bolt back and forth as the key is turned. This old lock has a bolt with 4 notches or talons and when the key is turned once, the bolt slides out 3/4 inches, the second turn forces the bolt out 1-3/8 inches, and when it is turned a third time, the bolt extends 2 inches. The key can be withdrawn at the completion of any one of these turns, and it takes as many backward turns as it does forward turns to withdraw the bolt. A fourth, but only a half turn, extended the bolt to 2-1/4 inches, set the safety and prevented the removal of the key. A half turn back was necessary to remove it.

This most interesting old lock shows clearly much about its parts and how they were made. The back, or plate, is a piece of hand cut sheet iron about 1/16 inch thick, measuring 6 inches long and 5-1/2 inches wide. All the parts of the lock, except the key, are hand cut, bent and riveted to this plate. The mechanism has one ward; the large bolt head and the smaller bolt tail are all one piece, and the talons appear like cogs cut in a flat gear. The spring, which has a beautifully hand-wrought leaf-shaped end, slips down into its notch only after the fourth turn of the key. It simply slides along the top of the bolt for the first three full turns of the key; thus the bolt could be pushed back by hand unless it was fully extended. The key is 4-1/2 inches long and the blade 3/4 by 5/8 inches.

Why the four talons and the great extension of the bolt! Perhaps greater security was obtained by having the head of the bolt in a wide keeper. The lock had been used a great deal as is indicated by the wear on the key stem. I have no definite data on this lock. It was ob­tained from a small antique shop. I judge the lock to have been made about 1750. It was fastened by nails or screws to the inside of a house or a cabinet door, and the key hole was cut through the wood, it had no case or cover.

1 Comment

This fascinating chest lock, handmade from sheet iron and riveted together, highlights the craftsmanship locksmiths bring to security devices. With its intricate mechanism and unique combination system, it showcases the historical ingenuity in lock design. Understanding such locks helps locksmiths appreciate the evolution of their trade.

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